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In honor of our 50th Anniversary, we're catching up with each of our original partner libraries. We've asked staff members from each library to reflect on their shared history with Minitex and update us on how their institutions have grown and changed over the years. This week, we're checking in with Karen Lemke, Head of Marketing & Community Engagement at Rochester Public Library.

A photo of the interior of Rochester Public Library.

Minitex is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Do you know when your library partnered with Minitex? How has the relationship changed over the years?

Karen Lemke: Rochester Public Library started partnering with Minitex in 1971, so we’ve been fortunate enough to know Minitex the entire 50 years. According to our September 1971 bills, we contributed $74.75 to Minitex in its first year.

In 1975, Minitex began supporting deliveries of shared materials to libraries, including RPL. When Southeastern Libraries Cooperating (SELCO) was founded in the late 1970s, RPL wondered if expanded local access to library materials might cause a decrease in interlibrary loan requests. But at the same time, staff acknowledged a possible increase in usage as more patrons learned about the availability of interlibrary loans. Today, RPL is one of the region’s top lenders. 

In 1983, RPL marked its first anniversary of having an OCLC terminal in the building, which was a direct result of a conversation between former Minitex Director Alice Wilcox and Library Director Judith Taylor.

Throughout the decades, numerous staff have benefited from trainings coordinated by Minitex. As Minitex services have changed, so has our usage. We appreciate the newer services like Ebooks Minnesota and the Minnesota Digital Library, but we are also grateful for the long-standing services such as ILL and staff training.

How big a role do interlibrary loan services play in your library and how do patrons go about requesting and obtaining ILL materials?

KL: Our patrons really appreciate interlibrary loan services. While we have one of the larger physical collections in the state, there are many items that people can’t find here. When patrons are looking for something and can’t find it, it’s nice to say, “We can borrow that from another library!” Requests are often made directly through our website, but they can also be made by calling us, visiting with us in person, or sending chat and email requests.

What is one project your library is working on right now that you’re excited about?

KL: In early 2020, our Library Board approved a new strategic plan with a targeted focus on equity. The plan was approved at the very beginning of the year but was interrupted by COVID. Now, as we start to recover from the pandemic, we are examining everything from policies to library hours through an equity lens. We are hopeful that our renewed commitment of “Welcoming all to connect and learn” will translate into greater outcomes for our underrepresented community members. The COVID-19 health crisis has been particularly devastating to communities of color and to those experiencing financial stress. As a library, we want to support the expected recovery.

What drew you to working in libraries? What makes this work unique and meaningful to you?

KL: I “fell into” libraries and was amazed at how the library of today is so different than the one I experienced as a child. While I grew up with a repository for books, today’s library is so much more than that. Libraries are in the business of serving their communities, with meaningful interactions happening on a daily basis. From hosting a book group or community block party to helping a person apply for health insurance or unemployment benefits, the library serves as a go-to place for support, assistance, and connection. Every day is different, and the past year showed us that libraries are part of the “normal” that people crave, which makes us treasured and unique.

What activity or place would you recommend a first-time visitor to Rochester check out?

KL: People should check out Indian Heights Park, a forested area that leads to an amazing view of Rochester. I would also recommend taking a walk through Mayo Clinic to see the beautiful artwork on display. There are also some great breweries in Rochester, which surprised me when I first moved here.

Written by

Elizabeth Loetscher
Resource Sharing Assistant